This is the so-called ‘Demareteion, dated 480-479 BC because of a presumed connection with Queen Demarete, wife of Gelon, ruler of Syracuse. Many scholars prefer to date this coin to the 460s BC. The dies of the decadrachms and the related tetradrachms, are by the artist called the Demareteion Master. This is a very rare coin, minted from the start, in small numbers. It is important because it is one of the first decadrachma, equivalent to ten drachmas, and one of the few currencies quoted by the classics.
In recent decades the dates of numerous ancient coins, including the celebrated works attributed to the Demareteion Master, have been reconsidered. These coins had traditionally been placed in 480 or 479 B.C. based upon an historical association derived from a passage in the eleventh book of Diodorus Siculus. However, the numismatic component of his account, which was composed 450 years after the events described, appears flawed, and current thought places these coins firmly between circa 470 and 460 B.C.
Diodorus records the generous terms for peace given by the Syracusan tyrant Gelon to the Carthaginians, who in 480 B.C. the Greeks had just defeated at the Battle of Himera. He reports that the Carthaginians were asked to pay only the costs of war incurred by the Greeks, two thousand talents of silver, and to build two temples in which copies of the treaty were to be preserved.
That report is followed by the passage relevant to the Demareteion decadrachm: ”The Carthaginians, having unexpectedly gained their deliverance, not only agreed to all this but also promised to give in addition a gold crown to Demarete, the wife of Gelon. For Demarete at their request had contributed the greatest aid toward the conclusion of the peace, and when she had received the crown of one hundred gold talents from them, she struck a coin which was called from her a Demareteion. This was worth ten Attic drachmas and was called by the Sicilian Greeks, according to its weight, a pentekontalitron [a fifty-litra piece].” (XI 26.3)
In his 1969 work The Demareteion and Sicilian Chronology, Kraay challenged the notion current since 1830 that the decadrachm mentioned by Diodorus was the first issue of silver decadrachms at Syracuse. Beyond the fact that the passage suggests the coins would have been made of gold, Kraay objected on numismatic grounds to so early a date for the first decadrachm. He noted how its incorrect date of c.480/79 B.C. had become ”the sheet-anchor of Sicilian numismatic chronology” and, consequently, had skewed ideas on the chronologies of so many other coinages.
Moreover, Kraay notes that the appearance of the leaping lion on two issues of Leontini tetradrachms had led some to assume that the tyrant of Leontini must have played a role at the Battle of Himera. However, literary sources record no such involvement, and if this coinage was disassociated with the victory at Himera, the only connection needed between the Demareteion issues of Syracuse and Leontini would be of a numismatic character.
It is now believed that the earliest possible date for the Demareteion decadrachm is c.470 B.C., and that it more likely was struck in about 465 B.C. The same may be said for the associated tetradrachms of Syracuse that Kraay notes exhibit ”the same peculiarities of style and design” as the decadrachm. Kraay initially had narrowed the timeframe for the decadrachm to c.466-461 B.C., between the expulsion of the tyrant Hieron I from Syracuse and the removal of foreign mercenaries from the city in 461; but a few years later had settled upon c.465 B.C.
Slow quadriga driven right by charioteer, wearing chiton and holding reins in both hands and kentron in left; above, Nike flying right to crown the horses. In exergue, lion running right; Amphora with high handles in right field below horses heads
Head of Arethusa right, wearing olive-wreath, earring and necklace, framed within a circle and surrounded by four dolphins swimming clockwise
ΣV – RA – KOΣ – (Ι)ΟN
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